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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: 'This is a Time to Witness to God'


The Coronavirus Diaries: 'This is a Time to Witness to God'

Wednesday October 14 2020

Hani Hanna, an Egyptian who has recently arrived at Edinburgh University as a research fellow, offers a reflection on faith at a time of pandemic.

Christians believe that faith in God is important at all times during our life on earth. We believe so because faith is the right form of humans’ relationship with God, who is the author, sustainer and fulfiller of our existence. However, this belief picks up a particular significance at the time of calamity when the future of humanity as such is threatened. What does it mean to have faith in God at the time of a pandemic?

Faith in God is neither the naiveté of wishing for the impossible nor the sickness of apprehension in the face of tragedy Faith in God is our navigation away from these two attitudes as we know God, trust in God, and witness to God.

Suffering is not an anomaly in human history. The bible is full of stories of suffering. In his days on earth, Jesus was asked whether the suffering of a certain man was because of his or his parents’ sins. Jesus replied that neither the man nor his parents is the reason of the man’s suffering, and that this suffering would display God’s glory. Jesus then put mud on the man’s eye and asked him to go and wash. And when the man obeyed, he was healed (John 9:1-7).

On another occasion, when Pilate mixed the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices, Jesus told the people that the suffering of the Galileans does not mean that they were worse sinners than those who did not suffer, and that all should repent or else all would perish (Luke 13:1-5). These two biblical incidents help us understand what faith in God could mean at the time of suffering.

Faith in God is the act in which we acknowledge who God is. It is customary in human history to feel guilty when faced with tragic events. Now, the coronavirus is no respecter of age, education, gender, status, color, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. So, unlike the Galileans and the suffering man, we’re all in this together. However, many of us (both individuals and cultures) have been expecting a world’s mass destruction as a consequence of humanity’s pride. This is an indication of our fear and guilt. Some of us might interpret the pandemic as a punishment from God to a world that gets wilder everyday.

This is a time for faith. It is a time to acknowledge the true God who created the world to be, and who has revealed Godself in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Godself granting it forgiveness and freedom, and who awaits us at the end of history to host us in God’s own life forever.

Faith in God is the act in which we trust in God. The commonness of the viral spread reminds us that we are limited, both individually and collectively. We are not in control here. Faith in God is to know that we are not God and that the true God is the one in whom we must have our trust.

We trust in power because it seems to open all doors. Therefore, we get scared when we discover that things are spinning out of our hands. Augustine calls this “the lust of power” (City of God, I.14).

We also trust in our possessions, which offer power and promise happiness. The lust for power and possessions is the reason of all social injustice in our otherwise good world. The time of calamity is the time of discovering the falsehood of this lustful attitude. This is a time for repentance and abandoning our idolatrous ways of life transpiring in prideful self-confidence and self-centeredness. This is a time to trust in the true God, the creator of heaven and earth, whose grace is the reason of our existence. This is our only hope.

Faith in God is the act in which we witness to God. Enjoying God’s forgiveness and putting our trust in God at the time of calamity does not suggest a life of self-centered tranquility undisturbed by the cries of our fellow suffers. In John 9, not only did Jesus intellectually engage the people’s question about the man’s suffering, but he also did something about it. Jesus also asked the man to do something about it. Yet, the outcome was not simply the man’s healing, but also the glory of God.

Faith is more than knowing God’s love and banking our lives on God’s sovereignty and wisdom; faith is also a life empowered to serve on the basis of that knowledge and that trust. Although the lust for power is sin, power per se is not. Although the lust for possessing is sin, possessing per se is not. Employing our power and possessions to serve our suffering fellows promotes healing to individuals and societies, thus glorifying the God whose final self-revelation was a self-emptying act of suffering for us.

This is a time to hold hands in prayer for the sick and the bereaved. This is time to give a hand to the disadvantaged in our societies. This is a time to exercise responsibility by respecting the precautionary measures. This is a time to witness to God.

Jesus’ response to people’s questions in John 9 was not dodging the question. Rather, it was a reordering of the whole situation. Jesus’s response removed the man from the centre and replaced him with God. This does not mean that Jesus ignored the suffering of the man; he healed him after all. He also exonerated him from the guilt inflicted by the people’s, and most probably also his own, explanation of his suffering. However, Jesus did something more: he glorified God. It is customary in the time of calamity to be self-centered. However, to have faith in God is to have God in the center of our lives.

The Coronavirus Diaries: reflections from Church of Scotland partners around the world

Guyana: The Strength of our Connectedness
South Korea: A Harsh Reality
Zimbabwe: Convenience or a Wake-up Call?
Sri Lanka: Service is the Highest Form of Worship
USA: Testing Positive
Portugal: The Mission of the Church Has Not Changed
World Council of Churches: A New Dawn is Upon us
Hungary: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit
A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
Myanmar: We Will Overcome this Hardship
Ghana: This Too Shall Pass
Brazil: The Least We Can Do
Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
An Indian in Germany: A Time of Enrichment
Argentina: Time in Between
Malawi: 'My identity in Christ remains unchanged'
Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
Malawi: No Lockdown and an Election
Zambia: 'I will never leave you... or forsake you'
Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
Zambia: 'All Life is Sacred'
Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
Nepal: 'Please Pray for Us'
Malawi: Tough Dilemmas
Italy: 'Together, We Will Get Through It'